What if we had White Hetero Male Studies?

Poor Attorney Roy Den Hollander. His rights have been infringed and his penis-privileged life has been blighted not only by Women’s Studies, but also by Ladies Night. The pitiable guy was supposedly duped by a female who married him to gain citizenship. Now, in seeming retribution, Hollander has declared a jihad against feminism.

Will any of you kind readers help him and donate to his fund for Men’s Rights? A resounding no? Well, thank the goddess. Yes, and this goddess worship of you crazy feminists out there reveals what Hollander claims in his lawsuit against Columbia University – that feminism is a religion that violates the 1st, 5th, and 14th Amendments. Reminds me of how a student of mine lovingly referred to my Advanced Feminist Theory class as “feminist church.” Yeah, if only.

If feminism was a religion we would be doing far better in this country that does not separate church and state. If feminism was branded as a religion we could get away with all sorts of things…

We could claim equal wage day a religious holiday! We could get all sorts of tax breaks!

We could refuse to do any number of things that offend our feminist sensibilities and then sue for religious protection under the law (like the male police officer who took civil action after he was fired for refusing an assignment at a casino because it went against his religious beliefs, we could refuse assignments such as doing the dishes or ironing – “sorry, no wrinkle free clothes, it’s against my religion.”)

In some states, such as California and Michigan, we could use publicly funded vouchers to send our kids to feminist schools.

We could come up with “charitable choice” or “compassionate conservatism” or “faith-based initiative” programs as a way to compete for funding with secular non-profit organizations.

Heck, we could jump on the jihad-is-so-damn-cool bandwagon and declare feminist jihad against the patriarchy.

And how about creating abstain-from-abstinence programs to preach in schools across the nation with both the blessing and the funding of the government?

Of course, if feminism were branded a religion, we would still have a pretty tough sell on our hands. But, with enough “Jesus was a feminist” bumper stickers and a number of cool re-tooled commandments, we just might be able to do it. Heck, we could even keep some of the old ones. “Thou shalt not kill” seems pretty in keeping with feminism. However, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife” would have to be changed to “Thou can covet anyone or anything if the coveting is done under the conditions of mutual consent by all involved parties”…

Anyhow, with that digression aside, allow me to return to poor (Hem)RoyDenHollander, a royal pain in the feminist ass. He claims that University of Columbia’s Institute for Research on Women and Gender is discriminatory and unconstitutional because there is no equivalent “men’s studies” program. Huh? Has HemRoyD not heard of men and masculinities courses? (For more on this line of argument, see the post about RoyD here at Appetite for Equal Rights.)

Perhaps (gasp) he has never actually taken a Women’s Studies course. No, that couldn’t be. He couldn’t possibly declare jihad against an entire school of thought that he knows nothing about. That would make him kind of like GWBush. Oh wait, squinty eyes, gray hair, crazy and incoherent claims, anti-woman… Hmmm, guess they are a bit alike.

His laswsuit claims that within Women’s Studies “Females…are credited with inherent goodness who were oppressed and colonized by men.” Wow, what brand of feminism you reading there RoyD? Did you get a hold of some radical gynocritical 2nd wave stuff and take it as gospel representing the entire movement?

In case any of you hetero females out there feel like RoyD would make a real catch, he shares that “I am looking for … superficial temporary escapades with pretty young ladies.” RoyD continues that “It’s harder than it was when I was younger. I only go after girls who are in their athletic prime.” By girls, I assume he means the under 18 set. Surely he wouldn’t refer to grown women as “girls” as this would be enacting the very type of gender bashing he claims to deride – and I don’t see him ever referring to men as “boys.” Thus, apparently rules regarding adulthood and who is able to give informed consent are not amongst the laws concerning Mr. RoyD. Who cares how old she is as long as she is in her “athletic prime,” hey RoyD?

RoyD is quoted as claiming the following in a Times Online article:

“The long-range goal of my law suits is that I am, in my own small way, trying to give all those feminists equality – not the equality of all the best in life, but the equality of the worst in life.

“Make them register for the draft, make them go to war and die, make them work in the worst occupations,” he said.

“They do not want equality. They want preferential treatment. It’s just the same old pedestal. they say, ‘I am a female. I want to be the CEO of a company.’ I want to be on a pedestal.”

Pardon me while I pick away at these inane claims.

  1. We don’t have a draft and thus neither women or men have to register for it
  2. Uh, females do go to war and die – they have for quite some time now RoyD, and they are dying in larger numbers than every before in another jihad – the one ran by your long lost twin, GWBush
  3. Worst occupations? How about sweatshop slavery? Sexual slavery? Domestic servitude? In fact, the worst jobs with the lowest pay (and often no pay) plus the most inhumane conditions are undertaken in the vast majority by females
  4. Preferential treatment? Perhaps you should look up the meaning of preferential – I think you have it confused with equal opportunity
  5. CEOs and pedestals? Well, there are a number of female CEOs (although in the vast minority), but none of them that I have heard actually sit on pedestals

As for refuting his misogynidiot claims (i.e. idiotic claims based on misogyny), perhaps Kim Gandy, president of NOW, puts it best: “They have a men’s studies department: It’s called ‘history’, ‘politics’, ‘business’. It’s the entire university. It’s all about men’s studies. It’s like asking why there isn’t a White Studies department.”

But, wait, no white studies department? Why not? How unfair!!!! Excuse me, must end this post now so I can work up a lawsuit of my own – I think I am going to call for a White Moneyed Christian Heterosexual Male Studies program. What’s that you say? The interests of that group run pretty much the whole show? Dang, is white hetero rich dude the ‘his’ referred to in the word HIStory? I never realized.

What if we got our messages about food, race, and ethnicity from fiction rather than from commercials? (Consuming Whiteness part 4)

 As a professor of both Women’s Studies and Literature, I find myself more drawn to the politicized analysis of contemporary culture and global issues right now than to the analysis of literature. However, as literary critique is still a major love of mine, I want to consider how the notion of “consuming whiteness” is critiqued in contemporary fiction in the following post.

 In contrast to the homogenizing images of a milk drinking, white America, many contemporary authors use food imagery in order to examine individual and group identity as profoundly diverse. For example, Bharati Mukherjee, Fannie Flagg, and Marlene Nourbese Philip variously employ images of food, eating, and cooking to examine cultural, racial, and gendered identities in the modern US. As their work indicates, the consumption of certain foods can be simultaneously enabling and delimiting. Like language, food both allows for the expression of identity and puts limitations on the types of identities that are possible, and, more crucially, that are valued in contemporary culture.

In literature, food and issues relating to consumption often allows characters to metaphorically ‘consume’ or integrate their cultural heritage into hybrid identities. For example, in the works of Bharati Mukherjee, characters’ struggles to integrate themselves into the cultural landscape are accompanied by changing eating practices. While some critics suggest Mukherjee is overtly celebratory in relation to issues of assimilation, I would counter that her fiction presents the way in which dominant (white) American culture figuratively consumes ‘exotic’ cultural foods (and cultural Others) in order to destroy and/or “Americanize” them.[i] In Jasmine, for example, the main character notes that her dinner guests “get disappointed if there’s not something Indian on the table”.[ii]This fascination with Jasmine’s ‘exotic’ cuisine seems to constitute what critic Lisa Heldke terms “cultural food colonialism”.[iii]Examining her own tendency to go “culture hopping in the kitchen,” Heldke finds that:

the attitude with which I approached such activities bore an uncomfortable resemblance to the attitude of various nineteenth- and early twentieth-century European painters, anthropologists, and explorers who set out in search of ever ‘newer,’ ever more ‘remote’ cultures they could co-opt, borrow from freely and out of context, and use as the raw materials for their own efforts at creation and discovery.[iv]

In Mukherjee’s text, Jasmine’s neighbours in Iowa seem guilty of just such a practice. Jasmine is treated as an intriguing oddity and mined for her culinary exoticism. However, she proudly notes, “I am subverting the taste buds of Elsa County”.[v] In a more positive take on the local passion for her Indian cooking, Jasmine reveals”multi-cultural consumption” to be a double edged practice. On one side, characters such as Jasmine consume, create, and resubstantiate devalued cultural heritages through the communal creation and ingestion of diverse food. On the other, such characters are also shown as vulnerable to being consumed by the machinations of the homogenizing, capitalist world – or, in other words, to being blandly Americanized.

Marlene Nourbese Philip, like Mukherjee, uses food to explore cultural identity in her short story “Burnt Sugar”. In the story, a daughter laments that her mother’s yearly Christmas gift of a home-made Burnt Sugar cake has failed to arrive from the Caribbean. Reminiscing about baking this cake as a child with her mother, the daughter ponders over the “ritual of transformation and metamorphosis” the cake represents.[vi]Detailing how the white sugar transforms into the black “magic liquid” that gives the cake its signature taste, the narrator muses that “the burn sugar is something like we past, we history”.[vii] The black liquid is characterized as strong and unique and the narrator wonders if this liquid is able to “change back, right back to cane juice, runny and white”.[viii]In a reversal of the white/black dichotomy, the story celebrates blackness as delicious and unsurpassed, and whiteness as bland and weak. Using food to negotiate the history of colonialism, the narrative reveals the symbolic role food plays in upholding (and negotiating) one’s cultural heritage in relation to the legacy of white imperialism. As the story implies, consumption can thus both enable one to uphold cultural traditions as well as reveal the ways in which certain dominant groups figuratively consume other cultures. Through the symbolic use of her wonderfully black cake, Philip’s story leaves a burnt taste in the reader’s mouth – by reading the story, we are forced to taste the bitter remnants of colonialism.

Fannie Flagg, in Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, also uses food to explore racial divides but with a change in focus to civil rights in America. Set in Alabama, the narrative spans the years 1929 through 1988. In the late 1980′s, Evelyn Couch befriends an elderly lady, Mrs. Threadgoode, while visiting her mother-in-law at a nursing home. Mrs. Threadgoode enchants Evelyn with her stories concerning Ruth and Idgie, two social rebels who opened the Whistle Stop Café in Whistle Stop, Alabama at the dawn of the Depression. Through Mrs. Threadgoode’s stories, we learn that Ruth and Idgie, despite warnings from the local sheriff and the Klu Klux Klan, served black patrons and also supplied travelling hobos down on their luck with hearty meals. Using food as a form of political activism, Ruth and Idgie refused to conform to the dictates of their white supremacist surroundings. Idgie even donned a secret identity – that of “Railroad Bill” – in order to raid government supply trains and furnish the black community with much needed food reserves.

Significantly, Idgie does not like milk and refuses to drink it, preferring strawberry soda or whiskey. Her dislike of milk – a ‘normal,’ mainstream food staple – subtly emphasizes her status as a cultural outsider, a staunch anti-racist and civil rights activist who, through her daily actions, resisted and subverted ‘white’ culture and its racist, sexist, and classist norms. Evelyn, inspired by Idgie’s bravery, also transforms from a kowtowing housewife into an activist in her own right. At the end of the novel, she visits Whistle Stop and buys a strawberry soda from the local store -symbolizing she, like Idgie, refuses to drink down the dominant (and exclusionary) white ideology of American society. As this book reminds us, how and what we eat (and who we eat with) is a political act that can either enforce or resist inequalities. As sociologist Melanie Dupuis reveals and this novel so brilliantly intimates, “Every meal is a political act.”[ix]

 


[i]See for example Gurleen Grewal, “Born Again American: The Immigrant Consciousness in Jasmine,”in Bharati Mukherjee: Critical Perspectives, ed. Emmanuel S. Nelson (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1993) 181-196.

[ii]Bharati Mukherjee, Jasmine(New York: Fawcett Crest, 1989), 7.

[iii]Lisa Heldke, “Let’s Cook Thai: Recipes for Colonialism,” in Pilaf, Pozole, and Pad Thai: American Women and Ethnic Food, ed. Sherrie A. Innes (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2001), 176-7.

[iv]Heldke 177.

[v]Mukherjee, Jasmine, 16.

[vi]Marlene Nourbese Philip, “Burn Sugar,” in International Feminist Fiction, ed. Julia Penelope and Sarah Valentine (Freedom, California: Crossing Press, 1992), 160.

[vii] Philip 157, 160.

[viii] Philip 157.

[ix]Dupuis, Nature’s Perfect Food, 243.

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